Monday, June 8, 2009

The Big Self Reveal

Several people have asked me why I go by the pseudonym Personal Failure. I avoided doing this post because it feels a little masturbatory* to me, but people keep asking, so here we go.

You would not have liked me at 20. I don't like the way I was 13 years ago, in retrospect and at the time.

I grew up in a privileged world. Not in terms of money really, though it seems that way now. We were middle class (remember when there was such a thing?). If you had asked me at the time, I would have said we were poor, and I tend to remember it that way, but that's only because I attended private schools, so most of my friends were upper class, and in the comparison, we were poor.

I speak of privilege because in my little world, success was the only option. Success as defined by graduating from college, getting a "good" job, getting married, buying a house, having a couple of kids and living the stereotypical American middle class dream.

That's what everyone I know did. My parents did it, my friends' parents did it, my older siblings did it, we all did. My life was on a schedule: graduate from high school, go to college. Graduate from college, get married. Get married, buy a house. Buy a house, have kids.

I never even considered any other life, any other options. The weird part was, I saw people who weren't living that life every day, cashiers at the store, clerks at gas stations, janitors and the like, but I never really thought about how they lived, how they got there. If you had asked me about them, I would have said something fatuous about how poor people need to go to college and get better jobs and then there wouldn't be any more poor people.

Yeah, I was that person.

This was exacerbated by the fact that I am what school administrators term "gifted". I have an IQ in the high 170s. That and about $2 will get you a medium cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, but boy did I think I was special. Everybody kept telling me how very special I was. Teachers, principals, my parents, they were so impressed. The fact that I was a judgmental, unimaginative little snot was unimportant- I was a gift to the whole human race, a success of Einsteinian proportions just waiting to happen.

Yeah, I believed that. And I just couldn't understand why I didn't like myself, why other people didn't like me. I was so special, so fucking special**, why didn't everyone, why didn't I, see that and respond with adulation?

Then I turned 22, all of 14 credits away from that next rung in the success ladder, and I started learning everything I never wanted to know about failure.

My fiance, who truly did grow up poor, and idolized success even more than I did, left me to take a fantastic job option in another country. He called me from that country to let me know we weren't engaged any more. My father took off with his girlfriend (who was all of 2 years older than me), leaving my mother, who had been a housewife her whole life, and my sister, who needed 5 medications a day to be able to breathe, with nothing. I dropped out of school to work two jobs to help keep them in the house, with food and medication. I drank, a lot. I watched my former friends graduate, get married and start the life I had expected from birth, while I was stuck in low-paying positions I considered degrading. I involved myself with an abusive man whose low opinion of me perfectly matched my own. I drank, even more.

I got sick, and then sicker. When I got to the point where walking across a room was a monumental task, I could no longer hold down the jobs I considered beneath me, and I couldn't even manage to keep Mr. Abuse.

In the end, though, it was the sickness that saved me. Eventually, I got diagnosed and that led to treatment. Where once only a big house in the burbs, two cars and a fancy degree would have satisfied me, walking without help thrilled me to no end. Success teaches little. I succeeded without trying for over 20 years. Failure teaches everything, if you're willing to learn. Failure teaches you who you really are, what you really believe in, what you really need, what success really is.

Yes, I am a failure on every level I would have judged myself on a little more than a decade ago. I celebrate that failure because only since failing have I become a person I can like. I like me, I like my failures, I like my life and that's that.

*Actual masturbation I am totally in favor of, but I despise masturbatory music and writing. If you want to write for your own personal pleasure, feel free, but don't subject the rest of us to it.

**I love Radiohead, hate that song.


  1. So the 20 year old girl would have thought you a Personal Failure but the thirty year old girl is content with her life.
    I can tell you unequivically that this 59 year old guy is happy that he is not having that 20 year old guy making decisions for me!

    "If one cannot find contentment within, it is useless to search for it elsewhere."

    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Thanks a lot.

    Dale, AKA E-lad

  2. I am so happy that 20 year old didn't get a chance to plot the rest of my life. I'd be divorced from Mr. Step on anybody on my way to the top, have at least two kids, and be thoroughly miserable right now.

  3. Ironically enough, that's one of the few Radiohead songs I do like. And that's knowing that every time I hear it I have a memory of sitting shotgun in my dad's 1994 Dodge Caravan between my junior high youth group's Thursday morning breakfast and prayer thingy and school thinking about how much of a loser I was because I understood exactly what that song was about. Ah, memories...

    Anyway, I have an occasional tendency to bemoan my own failures. The fact is, I'm not where ten-years-ago me thought I'd be. I'm also a hell of a lot happier than I would otherwise be, so I think it works out.

    'Sides, last week I accidentally walked in to a conversation between two of my co-workers who were bitching about their ex-husbands. The conversation eventually turned to how nice it was to have their own space and be on their own timetable. I suddenly realized, "Hey, I'm not behind the curve. I'm ahead of the curve." I have my space and my time is mine to use as I see fit. It made me happy.

  4. Thank you for sharing that! Isn't it funny how losing everything teaches you how to appreciate things?

  5. No shit Dale. Of course I am the same age as PF or will be on Saturday. 20 years ago when I was about to turn 13, I was on a family vacation in Washington DC and New York City. My life was similar to yours, PF, except I went to public school (my mom was a public school teacher). So I knew my family was doing okay. The future was pretty much planned for me about the same way, except being the man I would be the one working.

    Things happened, life. I never studied in High School and still made straight A's. That bit me in the ass my first year in college when I tried to do the same thing. So, I completely understand what you mean.

  6. Thanks. I was wondering about your pseudonym, since it is unusual.

  7. Beamer,

    It's as if we all share this human condition!
    Well said.

    I don't think there is enough space on my 'puter to hold the text needed to relate all the stupid, boneheaded, wrong headed thinking, counterproductive activities that I have engaged in throughout my life.

    No kidding.

  8. Plenty of bloggers are "masturbatory" (I may be one of them; who knows?) but as long as people keep coming back, it's appealing to some need. So don't worry too much about it. I'd be much more likely to read a blog by Personal Failure than by someone who called him/herself Personal Success. Think about it.

  9. I was wondering about your pseudonym too. I've seen fundies *oh so creatively* use it against you, so I tend to call you PF instead of your full "name."

    Anyway, it does take courage to reveal bits and pieces of personal information on the internets, so kudos. And thanks for sharing.

  10. Oh, you as a tween and me as a tween were very similar. We wouldn't have gotten along well at all. XD Hooray for the benefit of hindsight.

    And in case you don't mind a selfquote of which you reminded me:

    Show me where it is written
    I must demonstrate my competence to be admired
    Where is the world where everyone will love me
    For the stubborn shape of my desire

  11. Let me see...

    I'm 20 now, I was "gifted" in highschool, (which is a nice way of saying I was a geek) and I drifted through highschool without studying. I did 2 years at uni, then dropped out on account of being a lazy bastard. I now have a job programming, which has been a sort-of hobby ever since I was... grade 9, so that would have been... 14 years old. Who'd've thought I'd have got a job out of it?

    In other words...

    Stories like this affirm my basic philosophy on life, which is this: planning more than 12 months ahead is the equivilent of writing sci-fi, so why not cut out the middle man and just write sci-fi?

    In five years time, I'm going to be a janitor on a Jupiter mining ship when a radiation leak will kill all on board...

  12. I have an IQ in the high 170s.

    --I've been suspecting that much for a while.

    PF, I love your nickname because in many ways, the way you describe it, I am a personal failure, too.

    I haven't liked myself most of my life, and I am not sure I like myself today.

    I have a decent I.Q., the degrees, "the" husband, etc. But I reached the conclusion that it was all B.S., and have refused to work for the last few years. Now, that's personal failure.

    I have to admit, tough, that you've had it rougher than me. Congratulations for picking up the pieces and moving on.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It inspires me.

  13. Thanks for sharing, I've always been curious about the meaning of your name.

    This kind of 'invisioning your life' subject is where I'm at now. I'm 21 and I have to decide what to do next. I'll try to keep your story and that 'the house' 'the 2.5 kids' and 'the labrador' aren't the only things to aim for.

  14. I used to say I wouldn't have kids and everyone told me I would grow out of that... nope never did, was told I should find a man... well that only took me 33 years ;)

    Daddy own a business so we were well off, but I spent most of my time with my uncle who was below the poverty line... I got the best of both worlds I think.

    My nickname is ironic because love is not my last name, it's almost the opposite of love (not hate though) and I never realized what my name said until a woman on the phone pointed it out to me that considering my name, I was awfully nice ;) My Dad was nice enough to hyphenate my first name but all my ID just has Kerri for some reason and I've never had it corrected.

  15. I can't believe I've only just got 'round to reading this (slaps self in face); thanks PF, it takes a lot to write stuff like that sometimes.

    Your name always makes me think of Kipling's 'If' poem; 'triumph and disaster' and all that jazz...

    Take care,


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